I have a confession to make and I feel that today is the day to come clean. For, despite all appearances to the contrary, I have to admit that when it comes to my ‘status’ as a fan of the band Japan I am what you may call a renaissance woman; or to put it more bluntly, ‘born again’. Allow me to explain…..
From around 1980 – 1986 I was a huge fan of Japan. Their music was constantly played in my inner sanctum; my walls were adorned with their posters, alongside a collection of hilarious ‘oriental’ tat which I had acquired from ageing relatives and flea markets (and I thought made me look dead cool and worldly-wise) and I was honestly at a loss as to why In Vogue wasn’t the favourite song of everyone in the world, ever. Then, things started to change; new influences came into my life (usually attached to a pair of skinny hips and crap tattoos) and my taste widened to include all sorts of other musical ‘delights’. I was still interested enough in their careers to dutifully trot off and buy Catch The Fall and Dreams of Reason when they were released, and I even hot-footed it down to London to see the ‘….Shamans’ tour – I can still remember feeling a tad giddy at the sight of 3/4s of the band all on stage together, again – but beyond that, as time went by, my interest seemed to wane a wee bit. I think the last album I bought, upon release, was Stone to Flesh. *hangs head in shame*
Fast-forward some 20-odd years……..my life had taken a drastic turn for the worse and I stopped listening to music altogether, for the best part of 18 months. The one constant in my life suddenly ceased to bring me comfort and joy, and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of hearing songs I had once loved. Thankfully, this phase eventually passed, and when I was ready to dip my toe tentatively back in the water, the 2 artists I knew I wanted to hear more than anyone else, were Kristin Hersh and Japan. The former because her gut-wrenching rawness matched my own, and the latter because it reminded me of a time when my life was fabulously uncomplicated and I was truly happy.
And so, it began. I can clearly remember first reaching for GTP because I really wanted to hear Methods of Dance – and the moment I heard those opening bars, I was flooded with an overwhelming happiness and actually started laughing at the sheer joy of it all! I became greedy to hear all the songs I had once loved so much, and set about dragging all of my old vinyl out of storage and re-discovering the gems that I had long consigned to the back of my mind, and to acquiring all of the material I had missed out on over the intervening decades. And then, about 2 years ago, I was trawling the internet and started looking through Steve’s ‘imageshop’ – and the desire to have a Jansen print of my very own, set me on the path which eventually led me (and you) to this here blog.
And so, to the point of this piece…….and please forgive me if I took the long and winding road, but we got here eventually…..
Around the same time, Steve had started up his own tumblr site, ‘sleepyard’, where he uploaded some of his photographs and, within a few months, he also started answering fans’ questions about his photography and music. ‘How cool is that?’ I thought. After reading some of his responses and luxuriating in the nostalgic beauty of the images he had posted, I decided to ask him a question. And he answered it. The 16 year old fan-girl, who occasionally still inhabits this resolutely middle-aged body, was in her element. It was bizarre. 30-odd years after being ‘the biggest Japan fan in the world ever’™, I was catapulted back to being a ridiculous teenager. It was ace, if not a little unseemly. Fortunately, I soon recovered from this bout of retrospective delerium and regained my decorum; once I got over the fact that Steve is, in fact, as human as the rest of us and not some other-worldly creature far removed from the mundanity of everyday life, then asking him the odd question became far less fraught with hysteria (unfortunately for Steve, as I haven’t stopped badgering him since!)
Steve continues to answer a range of questions on ‘sleepyard’, often with good humour and humility, especially considering the number of ‘asks’ he gets about a band he was once in, over 30 years ago. And the weird one about Aleister Crowley.
However, the real buzz for me comes from the heady delight of seeing previously unpublished photographs, which appear every so often. His recent posts have included shots from the opening day of the Penguin Cafe, and a range of almost toothache-inducing colour images of Mick; so vibrant and full of clashing colours that I want to yank the enormous sunglasses off his head and protect my own eyes with his shades.
I am so used to seeing Steve’s black & white photographs, that when he posts some of his colour images, I feel like I have stumbled into some weird Technicolor™ Land of Oz, where everyone is bathed in magenta and violet. It’s rather fabulous, if not a little disconcerting. A few months ago, we held a highly unscientific poll on the TMK facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/teamMickKarn/ asking whether folks preferred to see Steve’s images in monochrome or full colour; and the majority opted for the more muted b&w version. Which I fully agree with, but sometimes….just sometimes, it is truly magnificent to see Mick (and Dave, Rich & Rob) in all their glory. I mean, just look at how fabulous Sylvian’s two-tone Warhol ‘do’ looks in these photos from the Manor Studios (top and below)
As fans of Japan – and the individual members’ post-band careers – I cannot think of a more valuable asset to have, than the opportunity to be able communicate on a one-to-one basis with someone whose music has had such a lasting impact upon us. The chance to have those burning questions (that have been niggling away for 3 decades – or maybe only 3 months) answered and to experience the pure joy of seeing new images from a time that resonates so strongly; it’s pretty amazing, don’t you think?
And it is has opened up a line of communication for a whole new generation of Jansen admirers (many of whom are probably not much older than Steve’s own son) who have discovered his music through the wonders of social media and have their own questions to ask. Far less tribal than we were back in the day, I think this is one of the truly positive outcomes of the internet; a world of fans not constrained by fashion or dictated to by music journalists or radio DJs, discovering music from 30 years ago which is leading them to some experience the current work of some truly remarkable artists. Fabulous, isn’t it?
‘sleepyard’ has also proved something I had long believed was evident, but often well hidden from public view, unless you looked quite hard; there was a lot of humour residing behind the scowly seriousness of those Japan promotional photos that graced the pages of the music press in the late 70s and early 80s. Comedic references to Del Boy, Alan Partridge and Dr Who; anecdotes about almost killing Brian Eno with a car door, along with his absolute refusal to fully answer pjsouthlondon’s questions about ‘all round nice bloke’ Richard Barbieri – all point to the fact that Mr Jansen is generally quite a funny bloke. Whodathunkit? (‘everybody’s watching….everybody’s helpless with laughter’…..indeed) If you don’t frequent tumblr and catch these occasional missives from Steve, you are missing out on a treat.
My personal favourite has to be this though:
Steve was once asked for his interpretation of the term ‘sleepyard’ – although it is taken from the song which featured on Steve’s solo album ‘slope’, the lyric & title was actually the work of the wondrous Tim Elsenburg, of Sweet Billy Pilgrim fame (and Steve has recently announced that the two of them are working together again, on his seemingly-never-to-be-finished follow-up album, which makes me very happy indeed!) – his reply was……
……’the place where things adrift end up‘
Never has an expression felt more apt to me.
with thanks to Steve – for the photos, the memories and the laughs
All photos by Steve Jansen © 2015
Limited edition, signed prints are available from Steve’s imageshop http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/